Walter Murch and Iron Man: The Science of Cinematic Perception

At the end of July, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put on an event where scientists and film makers got together to learn about how we perceive films.

Walter Murch explained how his edit of a tricky scene involving Gene Hackman in The Conversation (his first feature as a film editor) was inspired by a comment that legendary filmmaker John Huston had made during an interview: Huston described blinking as a physical manifestation of a psychological “cut.”


A clip from the Monaco racing scene in Iron Man 2 followed, and Jon Favreau, the film’s director, and Talma Hendler, founder and director of the Functional Brain Center at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, joined the other guests onstage. Smith introduced eye-tracking footage captured from ten audience members earlier in the Dunn lobby, which demonstrated the remarkable consistency of where the ten focused their attention as their eyes took in the action.

Although Jon Favreau talked about how knowing where people are looking in a frame determines the quality of special visual effects, editors have known for decades how to direct the audience’s view. That’s one of the reasons why continuity between is not very important: editors know that the audience will find it almost impossible to notice the length of a cigarette contantly changing on screen left because the actor’s face is screen right.

Go to the Academy’s site for more on the event and 20 minutes of interesting videos.

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